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Friday, August 19, 2022

Cologne Jazzweek (Day 5)

By Martin Schray

The hot weather has said goodbye and with it - perhaps - the adverse conditions that I felt almost haunted me (see day 3). I decided to start the day with an exhibition that is also featured by the festival. Entitled “Chargesheimer photographs Jazz“, it presents a look at an exciting chapter in Cologne’s musical history. The famous Cologne photographer Karl-Heinz Hargesheimer, who portrayed Cologne’s city history under his pseudonym Chargesheimer, photographed the city’s jazz scene in the 1950s and 1960s. His subjects included young Cologne jazz musicians as well as international stars such as Louis Amstrong, Chet Baker, Sidney Bechet, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. 

The recordings were found in Chargesheimer’s extensive estate, which the city purchased in 1978. Making them accessible proved to be a real challenge. Chargesheimer’s films were stored in shoe boxes, which the photographer sorted rather intuitively and which were only marginally labeled. The contrast between the negative and the image as a vintage print, which was created by the photographer’s processing in the darkroom, is particularly exciting. The images and the very nicely curated exhibition itself are sensational, and it will be on view until September. That it is also free is hard to believe.

Then I went downtown to grab something to eat and on the way I came across some buskers that looked like the Italian version of the Buena Vista Social Club. They played smash hits like “Volare“ or “Don’t worry be happy“ with Italian lyrics. It was a total cliché but they were very good in what they were doing and had lots of fun. Me, too.

Joe Sachse Quartet

The fifth day of the festival presented its biggest star: Anthony Braxton. Together with Dieter Manderscheid’s Bassmasse (an orchestra consisting of 40 bass players), who was awarded a prize for his services to the Cologne jazz scene, Braxton played with his Lorraine Trio in the WDR broadcasting hall. And what did I do? I decided to go see the Joe Sachse Quartet at the Loft instead. 74-year old Sachse (guitar) and his fellow musicians - Manfred Hering (alto saxophone, 83 years old), Helmut Forsthoff (tenor saxophone, 77 years old) and Heiner Reinhardt (bass clarinet, 70 years old) - are all veterans of the GDR jazz scene, which makes them look completely out of time in the context of the festival. Their music, however, is a bit old-school but nevertheless modern, usually presenting a head in unison, then followed by a solo from one of the horn players. Sachse’s sound itself is a mixture of Jimi Hendrix, Derek Bailey and flamenco, in addition, he uses the corpus of the guitar for percussion interludes. What’s amazing is that although Sachse always seems very strained in his playing and the his style sounds a bit bumpy, he himself has great fun doing it and his whole approach is absolutely unique. It reminded me of a socialist idea of western rock-meets-jazz music, but the absence of distortion makes it pleasantly lack the typical macho attitude. On the last piece before intermission, the three horn players improvised freely, looping their runs around each other. There could have been more of that.

Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity

In order to see Gard Nilssen Acoustic Unity (Nilssen on drums, Petter Eldh on bass and André Roligheten on saxophones and clarinet) I had to hurry to the Stadtgarten, since it was one of the bands I definitely wanted to hear. The concert was the world live premiere for the new album Elastic Wave (ECM, 2022) and all in all a beautiful mix of hardbop, cool jazz ballads and free jazz, of subtle harmonics and alternating dynamics. At the center of Nilssen’s playing were drum rolls, around which he set his accents. This gave the improvisations a certain lightness, but kept them very focused. Especially in the first part, it was good to hear straight free jazz. In contrast to the album, much of it seemed less airy than the ECM production, but tighter. A nice, coherent concert.

See: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5